9-year-old shoots another boy to death, troopers say

Lisa Demer

A 9-year-old boy in the village of Pilot Station was shot and killed Friday afternoon during an argument with another 9-year-old boy, Alaska State Troopers reported on Sunday.

The shot came from what troopers described as "a high-powered .17 caliber pellet rifle." The other boy fired the air rifle while the two were having an argument, and the round hit the child in the chest, troopers said.

No one is in custody. Troopers are consulting with juvenile authorities, trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said in an e-mail. They haven't released either child's name and won't release the name of the shooter because he is a young juvenile, she said.

It's unclear what the boys were arguing about. They were fourth-grade classmates but weren't friends, relatives of the victim said. The family members said they weren't aware of an argument that day, though.

Relatives identified the child who died as Spencer Polty, a fourth-grader who had just been awarded "student of the week" and was looking forward to playing basketball and being part of the wrestling team.

The shooting occurred on a day off for students, a teacher in-service for training.

His mother, Joyce Polty, said in a phone interview Sunday that "it seemed like a usual day."

"He wasn't causing any trouble. He wasn't teasing like he used to do. He was just jolly."

She didn't have any hint that something terrible was about to happen.

Around 9 that morning, Spencer went ptarmigan hunting with his stepbrother. They didn't get any birds, Polty said. He asked to hunt some more but she told him to wait until Saturday.

He wanted to take a shower, so she fired up the hot water heater. He used up all the hot water, she said, laughing, because she had planned to shower, too.

He was waiting for wrestling practice at 6 p.m. His first cousin, Noah Heckman, came over. The boys ate pancakes and went outside to play. They joined with another boy, who Joyce said she learned later had an air rifle with him.

Maybe around 1:45 p.m., Noah burst into the house, calling for her in a panicked voice, Polty said.

The other boy had shot Spencer, Noah exclaimed.

"I said 'Where is he? Where is he?' "

She rushed on her four-wheeler to where the boys were playing.

"My mind went blank. I didn't know what to do. So I cruised right over," she said. She paused, trying to collect herself. Her voice began to crack. "I found my boy laying on the ground."

She struggled to get out the words. "I was crying but there was no tears coming out of my eyes. I kept calling his name and shaking him. His eyes just moved a little bit."

She recognized "one of her uncle's boys" standing there and asked him to help her get Spencer to the Pilot Station health clinic but he couldn't do it. She managed to get Spencer to the clinic on her four-wheeler. Others met her there.

At the clinic, the first person she saw was a Russian Orthodox priest. She broke down, sobbing and handed her son over. "I lost my mind," she said.

The clinic workers tried CPR but couldn't save Spencer.

Her son's nickname was "Crazy," a name he got just after he was born. Another boy in the village had the nickname and died of an illness. So the family gave the newborn Spencer the name. The other boy was the older brother of the boy who shot Spencer, Polty said.

Last year, Spencer had wanted to play basketball but was too young for the team. He loved the game and was looking forward to getting to play at last, said his aunt, Olga Heckman. He knew he had to do well in school to play.

"We were so excited for him," Heckman said.

Her own son, Noah, has been through a lot, too. He witnessed the shooting. Heckman said the family is keeping close watch on him.

Polty doesn't know what should happen to the young boy who shot her son.

"I have to forgive him," she said.

She saw the boy's mother in the village store.

"She gave me a really big hug, and we end up crying." The other mother told her she was sorry.

Troopers are continuing to investigate the shooting. They haven't explained why they didn't notify the public about the death until two days after it happened.

The village, with a population of about 600, is on the lower Yukon River.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

Anchorage Daily News
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